What's happening now

Formerly the home of Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth, the Portland Land Matters blog explores citywide land-use concerns, such as home demolitions, with the belief that development should create an improvement.

Friday, December 6, 2013

It's not a loss. It's not a win. It's a remand.

That means Wally Remmers, developer of the controversial 4-story, 50-unit building on Northeast Fremont, has to fix things. Such as where to put his drywall where it won't run afoul of building and property line setbacks. These are a few of the things that the state Land Use Board of Appeals agrees with us were wrong in the permitting of the development.

The drywell is important because it acts as flood control—especially important given the flow that will come off the maximum-size roof—and new projects such as this can no longer hook up to city lines, to help avoid polluting overflows into the Willamette River. The drywell also is important because it rains here. 

By the way, if there's this much trouble with features readily seen on the plans or above ground, how about everything you can't see? Better cross fingers for the tenants.

The good news is that the city has a chance to look at the project again and revise the permit. It took hundreds of hours of work, thousands of dollars in legal bills, and a trip to Salem to have neighbors' concerns addressed. The outcome of all this, however, is an improved development for everyone, one that even handles its own runoff safely.

Our successful legal challenge representing another chapter in the citywide movement Neighbors for Responsible Growth, the Beaumont-Wilshire activists are proud of our part in the struggle, and glad to have an impartial state board agree with us on some errors in the project. May another positive outcome of the case be that the city and neighbors start working together to add density in a way that benefits neighborhoods, making better investments for all. 

After all, this LUBA stuff is expensive. (Speaking of, have you donated yet?) 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Decision time nears

"Does this wall make my building look big?"
Three weeks ago Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth traveled to Salem to make our case against Wally Rammers's 4-story, 50-unit building on Northeast Fremont. The countdown clock ticks as we anticipate hearing any hour now how the members of the state Land Use Board of Appeals ruled on our four assignments of error with the permit (briefly, they had to do with whether the city's requirement of parking for buildings of this size applies, the non-code conforming placement of the drywell, the shortcutting of process in defining the site, and the project's various structures set within required setbacks or too close to adjacent lot lines).

The gist of all the particulars is that Remmers built a building too big for the site, and got a lot of city staffers to rubber-stamp it. Regardless of how LUBA rules, hopefully this shameful chapter of Portland's development history receives no sequel. After all, the city can't afford any more bad will. The developer shouldn't get any more special treatment, especially given what this project has cost us all in terms of effort, expense, and good faith. And the members of Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth can hardly afford the legal appeal we made just trying to right this mess at the state level.

Speaking of support, have you—dear readers—donated to the cause? If we had a buck for every one of the 6,500 visits to this blog, we could pay the rest of our legal bills. You can contribute online, drop a check to BWNRG at the Fremont branch of Umpqua Bank, or send it to our awesome pro bono accountant WP Price, 4300 NE Fremont, #250, Portland, OR 97213.

Thank you for the support.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Captain Hales can act to right the ship

The picture shows seven vehicles backed up during morning rush hour; if Wally Remmers's building leases up as designed, add 36 more.

While we wait for the decision from the state Land Use Board of Appeals, let's revisit an article from the Portland Tribune showing what Mayor Charlie Hales thinks of the recent rash of development across the east side. After an East Portland Chamber of Commerce gathering a couple of months ago, the mayor acknowledged the mistake of no-parking buildings, such as the one going up on Northeast Fremont between 44th and 45th avenues. "Zero parking spaces is not the right number," he said. "All you're doing is exporting parking problems to the surrounding neighborhood streets." 

Prioritizing the profit-driven desires of an out-of-town developer over neighborhood residents, many of whom have worked hard to improve their neighborhood only to see those investments destroyed by their own city, has taken a toll on east-side neighbors' confidence in their city. We who just started paying our annual property taxes wonder how much of that money is going to defend against us in matters before the state Land Use Board of Appeals—and it shakes our confidence in the system. After all, even though the developer pays one-time System Development Charges to build where he has, exploiting neighborhood gains for his own and contributing nothing to the neighborhood but unmitigated traffic and other impacts, about 30 neighboring households are paying just as much into city coffers every year.

At that meeting, Mayor Hales went on: "I also want to look at that infill issue. And I also want to look at design requirements. I don't think our requirements for design review are good enough or tough enough outside of the central city."
Summing up the effects of poor planning and permitting, Hales said, "I want to reconsider the question of what we are allowing for infill in single-family neighborhoods. What is happening now, in some cases, is costing us a lot of public goodwill. It's a bad bargain."
Read the whole story here.
Is this the best planning we can do? Raise the bar, Mayor Hales!
All these comments aptly describe our situation in Beaumont-Wilshire, where not only are we defending against Wally Remmers's non-code compliant building but rampant teardowns of modest-size homes in favor of maximum-size cookie-cutter homes that dilute neighborhood character, reduce adjacent home values, and deplete affordable housing.
Using Mayor Hales's own term, Remmers's much-delayed and -contested 4-story, 50-unit building on Fremont is the ultimate "bad bargain" for the immediate neighborhood as well as any other residents of the east side who use and depend on Northeast Fremont, a city-designated major emergency response route. 
What Mayor Hales seems to forget, however, is that he's in a superior position to help fix it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

BWNRG's Salem diary: Happy to be here, happy to be heard

The long road to LUBA ends here.

It's just now sinking in, today's big day in court! We filed our appeal of Wally Remmers's 4-story, 50-unit building on Northeast Fremont at the state Land Use Board of Appeals in April. But the developer put so many obstacles and delays in our path—we just fended off another last week—that it took eight months to reach Salem and a higher level of scrutiny. All the while, Remmers continued to build at his own risk. You would think a developer would want to know the problems with his building so he could solve them without the expense, time, and effort of visiting LUBA.

We came, we presented, we look forward to the Dec. 4 decision.
Clearly it will take many neighborhood Davids—and their hard-earned dollars—to go up against the Goliath. As our recent fundraiser at Blackbird Wineshop illustrated, we may be a small neighborhood but, with growing support from within and outside our boundaries, we are strong. When faced with ill-conceived, poorly planned, and non-code-conforming development, Beaumont-Wilshire doesn't back down.

Residents from Beaumont-Wilshire and other east-side neighborhoods learn more about Wally Remmers's troubled development on Northeast Fremont at the Blackbird Wineshop event Nov. 11.
BWNRG's John Golden recounts the appeal process, from the SRO crowd gathered in June 2012 to the Nov. 14 LUBA date.
The LUBA hearing itself consisted of an hour of argument in the sober confines of the Land Board Room at the State Lands headquarters in Salem. In the staid surroundings, the board members listened carefully, consulted the plans, and asked great questions. We feel good about presenting a solid case.

Now we wait for the board's decision, due Dec. 4, and continue to raise money for our legal bills. We raised a good chunk at the fundraiser, but have one more big bill to cover. To donate online, click the links above or at right, or send a check made out to BWNRG c/o our pro bono accountant WP Price, 4300 NE Fremont #250, Portland 97213. Thank you to everyone who helped us make it this far, and thank you to the generous donors to our raffle prize:

A spirited Q&A brings attendees up to speed on the project.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Raise a glass to the future of Beaumont-Wilshire

For those concerned about the future of Portland neighborhoods, Beaumont Village is the place to be as neighbors toast their day in court: this week's hearing at the state Land Use Board of Appeals. Eight months in the making and finally reaching the necessary higher level of scrutiny, BWNRG's appeal on the code issues and impacts of Wally Rammers's 4-story, 50-unit building on Northeast Fremont between 44th and 45th avenues will be heard Thursday in Salem.

To mark this important milestone, neighborhood activists and supporters are holding a pre-LUBA rally that makes for a hearty send-off to Salem. In other words, let's party! Please join us from 7 to 9 pm Monday, Nov. 11, at Blackbird Wineshop, 4323 NE Fremont. It's also a fundraiser for our legal fund, so we're asking $50 per person at the door, by check to BWNRG or online through the links above and at right. Refreshments provided.

Looking forward to seeing you there, and soon!

Monday, October 28, 2013

We've looked at this building from all sides now ...

and it doesn't get any easier. The sheer scale and footprint dwarf the surrounding businesses and homes. Portland is famous for its urban planning, but where is evidence of that here? Even those who claim Wally Remmers's development is transit-oriented don't know or ignore the fact that the bus to this location doesn't run every day. Perhaps Remmers will become a transit activist who can use his considerable sway to restore daily service. While he's at it, maybe he can get the Fremont bus to cross the river again.

Cloaked in plywood, hopefully this is as bugly as it gets for Wally Remmers's 4-story 50-unit project. As footprints go, the mass is shoehorned into a landlocked site on a small block. Given that the only access is on Fremont and no parking is provided, congestion on the thoroughfare will increase.

Taxpapers funded a data quest by the city that found that 70-plus percent of households in similar apartment buildings own cars. Given that projection, Beaumont-Wilshire will see an influx of at least 36 more cars from the development—with zero on-site parking provided. Safety measures such as sidewalks in the vicinity, traffic controls, and more would help mitigate the impact, but we see none coming or promised.

If this is planning, it is just an example of the alternate reality being constructed by bureaus at the city of Portland, ones where this kind of project is called a remodel:

"Hey Neighbor, are you building a new house?" "Oh no, just a little reno work."

As long as you stick a few old floorboards in the air, what you build under, around, and above them isn't new construction. Blogger and keen city observer Bojack would have had a field day with this (he also sounded the alarm on the effects of Wally Remmers's building in Beaumont-Wilshire).

If, like us, what you really need after reading all this is a drink and a laugh, then come on out for a pre-LUBA rally 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11, at Blackbird Wineshop, 4323 NE Fremont, with drinks and hors d'oeuvres. It's also a fundraiser for our legal fees; to reserve a spot, send a $50 check made out to BWNRG to WP Price, 4300 NE Fremont, #250, 97213; contribute via PayPal through the links on this page; or come support the cause at the door. Thank you to all our generous donors thus far; we couldn't have made it to LUBA without you, and we look forward—after eight months of trying—to our day in court.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Salem here we come

Hooray. After seven months of developer-led delays Beaumont-Wilshire neighbors have at last achieved our day in court. It begins 9 a.m. Thursday, November 14, at the state Land Use Board of Appeals in the DSL Building, 775 Summer Street NE, in the Land Board Room on the first floor, in Salem. See you there.

Stay tuned for a pre-LUBA rally in a few weeks!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Our brief is in; now it's time to get the word out

Join us Sunday, October 20, for an open house/work party where we will discuss the LUBA appeal, distribute fliers, and drum up dollars for our legal defense fund. All this to pave a brighter future for our neighborhood—and refreshments, too.

Details to come, or sign up for easy e-mail notification. (We'll never spam you on any other subject.)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Is new neighborhood landmark a bully's pulpit?

Wally's World on Northeast Fremont: Three stories high and rising.

While we prepare the brief for neighbors' appeal to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, the walls continue to go up for Wally Remmers's controversial project on Northeast Fremont between 44th and 45th avenues. He's at three stories now, eclipsing all other development on the street and the vicinity, but aims to get even higher.

The contested project begins to loom over Northeast Fremont on its way to 45 feet. If the building proceeds as designed and leases up, an additional 36 cars—as forecast by city data—will further drive up congestion along the thoroughfare.
Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth, through the LUBA process, have tried to call attention to the project's issues since April. Numerous developer-led delays have stalled the appeal—but not construction—until now. 
As we delve deep into the issues behind the building, always wondering how the project was permitted from the get-go, the Bureau of Development Services grapples with a city audit that shows room for improvement.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The stumble toward Salem continues

A little light reading for LUBA, if it arrives.
When it seemed like the appeal to the state Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) was finally proceeding as normal, and that the permit would not be withdrawn by the city and developer a third time, it actually looked like we would sooner rather than later achieve our day in court.

After our third filed notice of intent to appeal, the next step in the process had been for the city to produce the record of its permit decision—the paperwork generated in issuing the building permit for the contested project, a four-story 50-unit building set for Northeast Fremont between 44th and 45th avenues. Twice before, as the deadline neared to deliver the record to LUBA, the permit was yanked, and Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth had to restart the process from Square One.

It is unprecedented to experience so many roadblocks of this kind, and while the hammers ring at Wally's World on Fremont, we bemoan the delay in the chance to be heard at the state level, to ask that all developers follow the same code. Otherwise, why have one?

To make the long story longer, the good news is that we received the record. The bad news: LUBA didn't. Whether it's oversight by the courier or the city, the missed deadline brings another anomaly to an already interesting case.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Here we go again

Wally Remmers's contested development gets into the spirit of Fremont Fest earlier this month.

We couldn't have asked for a nicer day for the annual neighborhood festival.

Hundreds of people stopped by the Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth's table to find out how the 50-unit 4-story project is far from a done deal.

We studied the revised plans for Wally Remmers's much-delayed project on Northeast Fremont between 44th and 45th avenues and are disappointed that they don't incorporate changes that would improve the investment in the neighborhood. That leaves us with the course of last resort, an appeal to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, and a list of items that are not to code. It's the only chance for neighbors' day in court, and something we've been asking for since April—before the permit was withdrawn twice for developer-led changes.

None of us expected to be working more than a year to defend the neighborhood, but it's worth it because this is a building we'll have to live with, and—as our membership made plain—if we have a glimmer of a hope of making it better, we better try.

Remmers dropped the Myhre Group, architects of the project on Fremont, for another building he has planned for Overlook. So that relationship is more tenuous than it's been—and/or these low-amenity high-impact buildings don't seem like such a great idea anymore. City Council effectively agreed by passing amendments requiring parking in these mondo projects.

Hopefully we can effect some change before Remmers starts printing up maps to the available parking in the neighborhood. In defense of all that perceived open space (of which there isn't much anyway) is that it deserves to exist, not something to be filled at every opportunity. We all need breathing room, Remmers's tenants, too, considering the hutchlike apartments designed for them, and especially so when tripling the number of households on the block in one fell swoop.

In even sadder news, veteran Northeast Portland journalist Lee Perlman has passed away. His willingness to delve into neighborhood issues big and small, attending meetings and hearings, and wrapping all of it up for community readers will be missed. I always looked for his byline first in the Hollywood Star. Hopefully he's at peace now, far from neighborhood debate and deadlines.

Another way to reduce parking in the neighborhood: park in the middle

Monday, July 29, 2013

On Fremont, developer sees room to loom

Beaumont-Wilshire residents who work downtown could have this to look forward to on their journey home: a building that stretches three stories higher than its adjacent neighbors, without any "stepping back" that would reduce its mass and increase its appeal. The rendering shows how the building would look as an expansive backdrop for existing buildings at Northeast 44th and Fremont in the Beaumont Village corridor. If the developer has his way, it's what you would see looking east from the lobby of the local Umpqua Bank branch.

After a long delay, Wally Remmers now has a revised permit. We haven't seen updated plans, but we hope for real fixes.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dear readers, where do you live?

An illustration from portlandmaps.com shows the boundaries of Wally Remmers's 50-unit project proposed for Northeast Fremont. If you live within 100 feet and support the BWNRG cause, let us know.

Pardon the intrusion, but we seek property owners within 100 feet of Wally Remmers's building site at 4419-4429 NE Fremont to sign on as petitioners in our planned appeal to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, or LUBA. LUBA requires that at least one of the named petitioners own property within 100 feet of the controversial development.

One of our previous petitioners, who owns property adjacent to the site, bowed out for health reasons. In addition, Bill and Jere Barrett of Barrett Automotive are out as well, apparently to make a deal with Wally Remmers. Without any formal communication from them as to the reasons for their withdrawal, we are working to meet the LUBA requirements and continue the cause for a significantly modified building that is an asset to all.

With more than 3,000 hits over its relatively short life, this blog may be one of the best ways to spread the word; it also shows the public's interest in the shape and future of our neighborhood. Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth never imagined having to spend a year bringing about changes in a project that more than triples the number of households on the block without offering any mitigation of its impacts or improved infrastructure that supports a building of its size. We also object to the scale of the project amid a village-like commercial strip and modestly sized homes.

Two times we have begun the appeal process; both times the city and developer withdrew the permit before any paperwork associated with the permit had to be submitted to LUBA. Right now the developer's working with the city on revisions to that contested permit. Once the permit is reissued, we will be looking for changes that alleviate neighbor concerns and fix code nonconformance. Otherwise, we can restart the appeal process. The third time could be the charm.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Meanwhile down in Hollywood

With the permit for Wally Remmers's proposed project at 4419-4439 NE Fremont still undergoing "value added revisions" ranging from zoning clarifications to plumbing changes, let's check on another of his family's projects in Hollywood, a neighborhood just south of Beaumont-Wilshire.

Now showing in Hollywood: The Building that Tried to Eat a Neighborhood Landmark. A couple of blocks away, a similarly oversize project offers units from $1,125 to $1,750/month, with a map to neighborhood parking included.
Two buildings went up recently in Hollywood, both big on the number of units and low on amenities. At one of the two, the building across from the library at Northeast 41st and Tillamook, a tour comes with this handy map to all the street parking in the vicinity.

Would-be tenants taking a tour of the new building receive a map to neighborhood parking for vehicles, but nothing on nearby transit or bike facilities.
At the numerous city hearings dedicated to discussing amendments that would put a stop to no-parking buildings of a certain size (like those just opened in Hollywood), many activists in favor of affordable housing and car-free living spoke up in support of this kind of development. They argued that this was precisely the type of housing Portland needed.

Color-coding shows how long to leave a car.
Now the buildings are leasing up. Two-bedroom units at the 41st and Tillamook building run from $1,550 to $1,750, and one-bedrooms are $1,125 to $1,425. Developers enjoyed the support of those activists but the results fall short of expectation—expensive and, for the neighborhood, exploitive.

That is, if Hollywood residents and businesses have no friends or customers.
Here in Beaumont-Wilshire, we hope for better. As the city and developer continue to work on the permit for the troubled, much-delayed development on Northeast Fremont, hopefully they also fix the scale and size of the project and further improve the investment in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

We've been here before

Two days short of the city's deadline to submit its record of the permit decision, a required part of the proceedings with the Land Use Board of Appeals, the permit has been withdrawn yet again. For more "strengthening"? Why wait until deadline? All neighbors want is straightforward, transparent process and a final, objective ruling on Wally Remmers's out-of-scale, unmitigated project at 4419-4439 N.E. Fremont. 

No matter. Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth are in it for the long haul, with a belief that the permit, however weak it is, shouldn't have been issued at all. The only silver lining to the delays is that we could get more exposure to our cause and more donations once those 45-foot walls start to rise in the heart of the neighborhood. It is our right to call attention to a development mistake, but these delays prevent us from following the only process with which we can respond. 

After cultivating a hostile environment from the day the developer introducing the project at a neighborhoodwide meeting last summer, and after BWNRG filed its first notice of intent to appeal in early April, Wally Remmers can't be surprised at the seriousness and strength of the pushback. Here it is two months after filing our first notice of intent to appeal, and the city and developer are still working on the permit. It's bad enough that city planning failed us, and now the city keeps throwing a wrench into the path toward resolution.

In happier news, we saw a heartwarming response—and influx to the legal fund: thank you!—at our root-beer social adjacent to the site last weekend. We appreciate all who came out for news about the biggest development in the neighborhood and brainstorming for a better future. If you missed the event, you can contribute online here or through the link at right. As the appeal drags on, costs rise. We are grateful for the support and time people contribute, along with the many professionals who have given us hours of expertise. It's been a long slog getting longer, but we're not alone.

Stay tuned for further developments (ha) as we learn them.

On June 9, members of Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth and concerned citizens gathered to view construction at 4419-4439 NE Fremont, site of a controversial development.

Participants sketch out a better future.

Business owners, neighborhood residents, and more came to get the scoop on Fremont.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

You know what they say: failing to plan is a plan to fail

In research trips to the Bureau of Development Services, this map on the wall caught my eye. The island of white inside the blue identifies the neighborhoods without plans. No wonder our neighborhood's having problems, such as Wally Remmers' proposed 4-story 50-unit building without parking on Northeast Fremont between 44th and 45th avenues.

With some sites in Beaumont Village still zoned Commercial Storefront, which now we've learned can encompass mondo residential, Beaumont-Wilshire residents have a chance to take a proactive approach to shaping future development.

It may be years yet before we see the revised, long-awaited comprehensive plan from the city. That plan is meant to fix the kind of problems we're seeing with the Remmers project, according to the city's Northeast Liaison Debbie Bischoff. But better not to wait for or depend on that; let's get a plan, man.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Picture this: scenes from ground level

Some images write their own captions all day long.

Here are some photos taken during construction of the high-impact project on Northeast Fremont between 44th and 45th avenues. With two cars damaged so far, along with neighbors' fences and trees, as well as crew members running heavy trucks roughshod over Fremont sidewalks and a general disregard for allowed work hours, few friends are being made out there. It shows—among other things—how inappropriately small the site is for the size and ambition of the project, and makes us wonder how the rest of construction will go. If the crew can't take care of the little things, how will they finesse building infrastructure?

Looking south on Northeast 45th, not a lot of room for 36 additional cars.
Looking north, not a lot of extra space either. The street is so narrow that when both sides are parked up, through traffic becomes one-way only. 

Typical rush-hour morning traffic, backed up for three blocks and idling on the crosswalk.
The site's sidewalk closure poses a safety hazard to all.

With bungalows selling for $50,000 over asking and McMansions sprouting in their places, the hammers continue to swing around Beaumont-Wilshire as well as at the contested site of Wally Remmers's low-amenity four-story building on Northeast Fremont. The fact that such an out-of-scale project with outsize impact was given the city's nod makes me recall when, not long ago, the city was accused of being anti-business. Now, with developers exploiting communities across the east side, could the city have swung to the other extreme, to anti-neighbor?

Hopefully this case can be sorted out by the state Land Use Board of Appeals. If all goes to plan and process, the city will produce the record of the permitting decision this time around. When Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth filed its initial notice of intent to appeal, which triggered the LUBA process, it was a day or two before the city's deadline when suddenly the permit was withdrawn for "strengthening."

With the Richmond debacle fresh in our minds, we hope this appeal goes smoothly, that all parties can fulfill their required duties in the time allotted. When I queried Mike Hayakawa, supervising planner at the Bureau of Development Services, about the permissibility of withdrawing the permit to tweak it thus, he said that what they were doing wasn't in the code at all, explaining: "The City of Portland withdrew the building permit decision for the purpose of the legal proceeding at LUBA. Because it is part of the LUBA proceeding, this is not in the city code." How handy that the permit can be fixed while the developer continues to build.

For some background to the no-parking controversy, listen to Rick Michaelson (sp?), testify at City Council last month (fast-forward to 104:55 of Part I), explaining how we came to be in this predicament. Basically, in 1975 as Portlanders saw ever more buildings demolished in the highly dense northwest part of Portland for parking lots, CS-zoned parcels were exempted from parking requirements. With one fell swoop, the city created a neighborhood known for parking hassle and an ongoing migraine for the city's east side. 

It's worth noting that Michaelson, one of the architects of limiting parking lots in Northwest Portland, testified in favor of the parking minimums recently passed by City Council, suggesting they should apply to buildings with as few as 20 units. It's also worth noting that the Northeast Fremont project wouldn't be permitted today as designed. Of course, Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth maintains that it shouldn't have been permitted in the first place, for reasons of parking and many others.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Let it be LUBA

At a well-attended meeting May 22 (many thanks to those who were able to be there, and for the thoughtful contributions), Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth decided to continue our efforts seeking to influence the outcome of the apartment building project on Fremont between Northeast 44th and 45th avenues. 

We will resubmit a notice of intent to file an appeal with the state Land Use Board of Appeals. The previous notice of intent to appeal filed by our group was stalled by the city and the developer who, instead of producing the record of the permit decision as required by LUBA, withdrew the building permit to "strengthen" it. After the city resubmitted the permit, and LUBA was notified, the appeal process had to begin again.

This pivotal meeting of BWNRG members focused on the realities of the larger impact this apartment building has; not just in the immediate vicinity of the project, but also the broader implications for development in the Beaumont-Wilshire (and more) neighborhoods along Fremont as well as in the other communities in Portland being impacted by large-scale development. We remain committed to maintaining our presence in this important conversation.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Does the project have a permit? Depends on who's asking.

With both the city attorney and the developer claiming to have withdrawn the permit for the Northeast Fremont building, it's hard to know who will make what happen next. City staff seem to say that despite the permit being withdrawn for LUBA purposes, it's still in effect at the local level. According to news reports they took the action in order to "strengthen" the permit. Hopefully they come back with amended plans showing a greatly improved building.

Dodging their first deadline to submit the record of the permit to LUBA, the codefendants with this interruption create a longer process, but one that can be restarted if necessary. Despite the setback (ha), Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth hopes for a transparent, cooperative effort that leads to a more successful project and mitigation of outsize impacts.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

This just in

Amid the LUBA machinations, the city in its review of the record of the permit decision apparently found a material error in that decision, and so has today withdrawn the decision. Does that mean Wally Remmers's project on Northeast Fremont has no building permit? We wonder.

The legal ramifications of this action are discussed at length here, scroll down to the subsection ending in -0021.

More details to be posted as we learn them. Let's hope this is a chance to improve this proposed investment in the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood—for example, making it more appropriate to scale and/or at least mitigating its impact—in ways that benefit tenants, developer, local business owners, and homeowners alike.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Some words about windows aren't crystal-clear

After our recent post bemoaning the lack of windows on the east and west sides of building proposed for Northeast Fremont between 44th and 45th avenues, the developer's architect sent out a missive explaining that the city wanted them deleted.

To refresh your memory, this is what residents can expect to see when heading east on Fremont or even from the Umpqua Bank branch at Northeast 44th and Fremont: an unbroken wall of lap siding with a smattering of narrow windows at the front corner. The same goes for the east side of the building. The rectangular shapes at the bottom of the image are the existing buildings of longtime business Barrett Automotive, showing the scale of the proposed project.

Windows were eliminated on the east and west (above) sides of this 4-story building proposed for the heart of the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood.  
Yes, if you are pushing the building to within inches of the neighboring properties' lot lines, you do have to take out the windows.

The architect explains: "We were required to eliminate those windows due to the City's concerns in regards to fire and life-safety protection." If the developer really wanted those windows, he'd pull in the sides of the building a few feet, per city code. It's good to see safety ruling the day, just too bad that the building had to be so big that the windows had to go, and so tenants and residents can't enjoy better views. In this case, effective finger-pointing requires a mirror.

The silver lining for developer Wally Remmers is that since windows cost a lot, he saved a pile of money.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Walkers put on alert

Where would you site a 50-unit building without parking? Before answering, check out this detail of the city map of reported pedestrian injuries (shown by the yellow dots) from 2000 to 2009:

Here's where Wally Remmers plans to put a building that will bring 50 households and a city-estimated 36 additional cars with no dedicated place to store them.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

They're doing it better out East

A developer in Boston has come up with a no-parking building on the perfect site—within walking distance of a couple of major employers and in a location well-served by transit—and whose tenants will sign away their right to own a car.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

It's hard to scale down 41,000+ square feet

About the time the permit was issued for Wally Remmers's mondo project on Northeast Fremont, a staffer at the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability put out a plea for letters of support so that the bureau can win a grant from Metro to study development issues such as appropriate building heights, massing and scale, and transition to adjacent single-family housing. I'm not sure why these considerations aren't already part of the work at the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability, but if you would like to help out, contact Debbie Bischoff, debbie.bischoff@portlandoregon.gov or 503.823.6946or Julia Gisler, julia.gisler@portlandoregon.gov or 503.823.7624.

The contractor has only begun pushing the dirt around on the Northeast Fremont site but if Wally has his way, we will have a showcase issue of scale and a project that could be the poster child for the study. Here's a view of the west end of the proposed building adjacent to the existing office for longtime neighborhood business Barrett Automotive, at Northeast 44th and Fremont. 

It gets better. Here's a view of the east end of the building (the entire frontage of the building wouldn't fit on one piece of paper—apologies), with the existing Beaumont Health Care Clinic shown at right, at Northeast 45th and Fremont:

And here's what neighborhood and other east-side residents will come home to every evening if they work downtown or near the central city and as they spy the building's west side:

A previous rendering of the building showed plenty of windows on both sides of the building, but they're gone now. Except for a smattering of windows at the front corners (indicated by the blue cross-hatching), and the two existing Barrett Automotive buildings at ground level, there's nothing to break up the expanse of lap siding. Too bad—there's a beautiful view toward downtown that's soundly ignored; instead there are 12 balconies off the back of the building (those notches shown to the left, above) to take in any action happening in neighbors' yards and homes up the block.

Even if the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability doesn't get that grant, hopefully it can still do something about scale and other issues posed by these massive projects.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

It takes a while to turn a ship around

... but in the Richmond case it looks like Mayor Hales managed to do it, stopping the Bureau of Development Services from reviewing revised plans for the infamous building at Southeast 37th and Division. That debacle is still far from a success story, but at least it appears city government is responding to neighbors' concerns and not cutting backroom deals with developers unwilling to play by the rules.

For a time, the silt fencing disappeared at the Northeast Fremont site, offering much improved visibility for drivers and pedestrians. Then the silt fencing went up again, striking another blow for neighborhood safety. 

Last Friday, March 22, turned out to be a dark day for Beaumont-Wilshire as that's when the Bureau of Development Services issued the permit for the Northeast Fremont behemoth with no parking. I haven't looked closely at the plans but I wonder if developer Wally Remmers omitted closets for tenants, instead putting those Pod structures in parking spots around the neighborhood for tenants' clothes and other items. That's what he's doing with tenants' other possessions (vehicles), by pushing them out to public property instead of designing a self-sufficient self-sustaining building.

Many neighborhood residents are lucky to have and use off-street parking; nevertheless we vigorously defend availability of parking for bustling neighborhood businesses; friends who are not able to be bike riders, walkers, or transit takers; patrons of our small home-based businesses; caregivers; deliverers; and so on. Just because there is space available (and on one side of the block where the proposed project is meant to go, there are about seven spaces) does not mean that it needs to be filled to capacity as a car-warehousing area.

Looks like the only people enjoying these projects are the lawyers at Perkins Coie.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

We stand with our Southeast neighbors

Wow. I grimaced when it became clear the sidewalk-closure permit for the proposed project for our neighborhood had been fast-tracked without satisfying a critical required step—and still feel aggrieved it hasn't been corrected. Then I winced when I saw in the news that the folks at the Bureau of the Development Services had to be convinced of the state Land Use Board of Appeals' authority in revoking the permit for Southeast 37th and Division. Now, however, something's really starting to smell with the backroom deal to expedite a permit to renew construction at that controversial Richmond site, intended home of yet another mondo-project without space for all its tenants' possessions.

Yesterday's sneaky deal made Richmond's scheduled meeting for community input for next month moot, so where once neighbors (the original stakeholders, with the most to lose) thought they had a chair at the table the door was slammed in their face.

Who, in city hall or government, wants as their legacy these exploitive buildings? Without LEED features, a size scaled to fit the neighborhood, or interesting architecture, they contribute nothing to their environs and in return deliver a wallop of impact in terms of increased traffic, pedestrian risk, slowed emergency response times, and near-permanent use of on-street parking, already well-used by thriving local businesses.

When the Bureau of Development Services sees fit to follow its own processes and correct its mistakes is when I'll believe city government's working. Such special favors to certain developers erode taxpayers' faith in the system. It also makes it hard for the upstanding ones to fairly participate.

"Selective" enforcement—as well as expedited permits for certain people—breeds a disregard for the law by both would-be developers and officials. It begins with rationalization and/or laxity and can become corruption.

We look forward to details on the Richmond deal, and a course correction at the Bureau of Development Services.

UPDATE: Per this O post, Mayor Hales has stepped in to stop BDS from reviewing revisions for the Richmond project. Hopefully the reporters will dig for the rest of the story.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's up to City Council to make a real difference

Northeast Fremont between 44th and 45th avenues: Future sight of neighborhood boon or neighborhood behemoth? Tell City Hall what you'd like to see.
After about four hours, the Planning and Sustainability Commission hastily voted—despite some hankering for an additional work session—to rubber-stamp the weak amendments put forth by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Requiring .25 parking space per unit for buildings of more than 40 units is like dripping water on a bonfire: so little done to mitigate a known impact, and a gift to no-parking developers. As long as they build at 40 units and under, it's business as usual.

This almost pointless charade feels like we're not getting the responsible planning that we're paying for, especially when considering the project that may be permitted in this neighborhood. One side of the block has no sidewalk while the other side gets a 4-story, 50-unit apartment building without parking. The only way these two elements jive is that they both hit bottom on the amenity scale.

Under the proposed code amendments, for the building proposed for Northeast Fremont, the developer would have to build 12 or 13 spaces, with options to decrease that number significantly. After all the developer "buy-downs"—again, neighbors get nothing in these deals except additional negative impact—the end result is about 8 spaces to satisfy a projected influx of at least four times the vehicles. The city's own recently collected data shows that more than 70 percent of households own a car. This is data taxpayers paid to discover; why is it being ignored?

Leaving aside the question as to whether that possession is a luxury item or a necessity (think lower income worker with night shift or need to travel around the city, or a parent with several kids), the city also reported, "Many people stated that there were no amenities that would reduce their need for a vehicle." While I admire the bike-only activists and hope there are hundreds more who will live in these buildings, it's not an option for everyone.

One testifier summed up the debacle as boiling down to car storage. That's certainly a big part of the problem, but in our case eclipsed by traffic/pedestrian safety and emergency response times on Fremont.

One brainstorm: Make the cost of parking permits high enough that we recoup enough money to pay for sidewalks all around the affected block and on adjoining blocks so that pedestrians don't have to walk in the street. Many drivers will be circling for spaces at all hours, and the lack of good street connectivity and traffic controls already make conditions hazardous. It rankles that we have to pay for safety measures that mitigate problems brought on by the developer who's receiving all the rent checks, but at least the finite resource (on-street parking) can be exploited for the neighborhood's overall good as well.

Stay tuned for the City Council session, and let the mayor and commissioners know how you feel about the amendments coming their way. For more on those, read on:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Let's make parking requirements worth the work

Many Beaumont-Wilshire residents took time out of a sunny Saturday to help the city achieve clarity on changes to code regarding no-parking buildings, such as the one proposed for Northeast Fremont. If you can submit your opinions on the amendments soon to City Council (contact info at lower right), great. If you can also make it to Tuesday's hearing, even better. 

Amendment No. 1: Giving an inch where it will take a mile

Taking the proposed project on Northeast Fremont as the example for how the city's draft interim measures would affect the landscape, it appears that only about 8 spaces would be required in the building of 50 units. City data shows that more than 70 percent of households surveyed own a car.

Requiring such scant space for tenants' possessions hardly makes a dent in the impact, so how about better connecting reality to the requirements? Instead of the proposed 1 spot per 4 units, BWNRG recommends that the requirement should be 1 spot per 2 units. That compromise still provides an incentive for people to go without cars. 

Instead of the 1-space-per-2-units rule applying only to buildings of 41 units or more (as proposed), the parking requirement should be applied to buildings of 20 or more units. The distrust toward developers and the city is so great that many neighbors see the 41-unit threshold, again, as laughable. It's easy to imagine a wave of 40-unit buildings without parking, each sending 60-plus cars onto neighborhood streets for storage. That's not solving the problem, that's increasing it.

BWNRG recommends: 1 space per 2 units in buildings of 20 units or more.

Amendment No. 2: Don't count on Tri-Met

This amendment proposes that minimum parking requirements not apply to projects within 500 feet of frequent transit service. Since Tri-Met service changes regularly (example: the Fremont bus—no longer running 7 days a week or to downtown) and the service it provides is not within the city's control, we suggest that there be no exception to parking requirements based on any level of expected Tri-Met service. 

BWNRG recommends: Required parking applies regardless of Tri-Met service levels.

Amendment No. 3: Deals for developers stick it to neighbors

This amendment allows substituting car-sharing spots for some of the required car spaces. We're against any bargaining of this kind, and also recommend disallowing further reductions for motorcycle and bicycle parking, striking out code sections 33.266.110.B.5 and 33.266.110.B.7.

The requirement should be straightforward, simple: 1 space per 2 units, a formula that still does not cover the anticipated influx of vehicles. Developers can choose to make their properties more attractive by adding or increasing bicycle/motorcycle parking and car-sharing spots, but we'd hate to see the city apply unwieldy formulas and take on more monitoring responsibilities, especially when neighbors have to shoulder additional traffic impact. Under the recommended 1 space per 2 units, they’re already absorbing a majority of the anticipated vehicles.

According to the city’s recent parking-related survey, “Many people stated that there were no amenities that would reduce their need for a vehicle.”

BWNRG recommends: No reductions allowed in required parking.

Amendment No. 4: Spaces elsewhere are no sure thing

We suggest returning to the current language of the code that requires the parking to be on the same site as the development. As our case shows, properties change hands and uses—tying them up in use as parking lots for nearby residential projects makes the no-parking buildings dependent on an unchanging future. Buildings should be self-sustaining, self-contained in the amenities provided to tenants. Developers may say it's too difficult to design parking into the building or not economically feasible, but smart architects the world over—from the Pearl District, to Vancouver, B.C., to Hong Kong—can do it. Tenants not provided parking on-site are encouraged to rent or arrange spaces elsewhere individually if they choose, which meets the spirit of this amendment without any city monitoring. 

BWNRG recommends: Required parking must be on-site.

Amendment No. 5: Load up on safety

A loading space should be required for any building with 20 units or more, instead of the 41-unit threshold proposed. If the Northeast Fremont building is approved, serious questions remain as to whether the city's designation of major emergency response route can still apply. Imagine a garbage pick-up, a tenant move-in, and a delivery occurring at the same time—not impossible considering the proposed 50 units—how fast could a firetruck, ambulance, or police car navigate the congestion? Neighbors across the east side, not just in Beaumont-Wilshire, depend on a functioning Fremont for emergency response. A loading space somewhat ameliorates this safety concern at a site where on-street parking will be at a premium.

BWNRG recommends: Loading space required for buildings of 20 units or more.

Make it a moratorium

It's irresponsible for the city to be drafting measures to avoid known problems while simultaneously approving one of those problems, as it seems ready to do in permitting the Northeast Fremont building. A moratorium will save us all time, effort, and money in the long run, and should be embraced as a tool for allowing city staff, developers, and Portlanders to thoughtfully craft the future of the neighborhoods.

Last but hardly least

For safety issues dealing with transportation, whether it's calling for removal of the silt fencing that hinders visibility along Frermont, reporting car crashes (one occurred just outside that fence on March 6), or any other suggestions for improvements, call 503-823-5185, ask for Matthew Machado. He's familiar with the site and in contact with the contractors.